Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
Knoxville News Sentinel on outsourcing the operations of state facilities:
Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson has raised some legitimate questions about Gov. Bill Haslam's initiative to outsource the management and operations of state facilities.
Wilson, whose office conducts audits of state and local governments, sent a letter last month to the administration outlining his concerns about "vested outsourcing," an outsourcing approach used by private-sector businesses but essentially untried on a widespread basis in government.
The Haslam administration is looking at outsourcing virtually all the state's facilities management, including buildings at state colleges and universities, prisons, state parks and armories. Outsourcing might be a cost-effective solution for at least some of the state's facility management needs. Indeed, Haslam has a duty to look for ways to save state dollars while providing a level of service expected by the taxpayers.
But Wilson should be commended for examining how the plan would work, particularly since, as he put it, vested outsourcing represents "a fundamental change in how the state manages its real properties."
Wilson's concerns should demand some consideration, not least because the comptroller is one of the three "constitutional officers" selected by the Tennessee Legislature and who comprise half of the State Building Commission, which generally must sign off on state building projects and facilities-management contracts.
Though the process so far has been kept under wraps, vested outsourcing seems to be the direction the administration is taking. Haslam tapped one of the developers of vested outsourcing, Mike Ledyard, to be the state's director of facilities management outsourcing.
Vested outsourcing was developed through research conducted by the University of Tennessee College of Business Administration and funded by the U.S. Air Force. The approach centers on developing close relationships between buyers and vendors focusing on outcomes rather than transactions and using incentives for both parties. Vendors typically are intensely involved in developing the contracts before the final agreement is made.
Such cozy relationships might work in the private sector, but public contracts require fairness and transparency. Wilson indicated the administration is adapting the vested outsourcing concept to comply with state procurement laws, but questions remain.
"Is the process fair? Is the process transparent? Was there a level playing field?" Wilson wrote.
The architects of the outsourcing plan need to be able to answer those questions in the affirmative to secure public support for the effort. State employees already are mounting vigorous resistance, especially at Tennessee's colleges and universities.
An assessment of Haslam's plan should wait until it is actually released, but the administration would be wise to look at the options through Wilson's lens. One promising sign is that Wilson and his staff have held a series of meetings with the governor's outsourcing team in recent weeks. Ensuring accountability and transparency is vital for conducting the public's business.
The Jackson Sun on Tennessee roads:
We have a problem in Tennessee: Many of our roads are crumbling. Many others are in need of upgrades to catch up with development, population growth and increased traffic.
But the funding system to address these issues is outdated. It is based on a gas tax that hasn't changed since 1989. When adjusted for current market conditions, that 1989 gas tax of 21.4 cents per gallon is really worth about 10 cents a gallon today, according to research by the state Comptroller's Office.
The level of need is hard to fathom. Gov. Bill Haslam toured the state last week to raise awareness about the problem. He carried a list of road projects totaling $5.3 billion.
In Madison County alone, we have five projects totaling $87.7 million that have been approved but are stalled due to a lack of funding. They include the widening of Interstate 40, reconstruction of I-40 interchanges and redesign of the intersection at Carriage House Drive and the U.S. 45 Bypass near Casey Jones Village.
We believe Gov. Haslam is doing his best to call attention to the situation. But the response from many state legislators seems to be this: "We're headed into an election year. No way are we going to tackle a serious problem that involves finding more revenue, maybe even a tax increase."
How sad. How irresponsible.
Unfortunately, a similar problem exists on the federal level when it comes to highway funding. And Congress has acted in a similarly irresponsible manner by providing a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Like our state legislature, many members of Congress are unwilling to address a difficult problem because it might tarnish them politically.
On the state level, state Rep. Bill Sanderson said last week that legislators wouldn't have time in the upcoming session to adequately examine the problem and find a solution.
We respectfully disagree. Our legislature is perfectly capable of analyzing and solving this problem in the upcoming session. But, sadly, it probably lacks the backbone to do it.
We were encouraged last week that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey offered support to Gov. Haslam's efforts to draw attention to the road-funding problem. But even Ramsey did not express a sense of urgency to find a solution. The best he could offer was that it needs to be dealt with "soon."
Ramsey has the ability to get things in motion in the state Senate. We encourage him to do so. We offer similar encouragement to House Speaker Beth Harwell.
No one likes a tax increase. And we are not suggesting that is the only answer to Tennessee's road-funding problem.
We do know this: By failing to act, our state legislators are failing to do the job they were elected to do.
The Tennessean on day care centers:
The most basic expectation of parents who leave their children at a day care center is that their little ones will be safe.
Day care is an essential service that many parents need, and when the state gives a center its highest rating, they should feel they can have faith that the center complies with the rules, meets the highest professional standards and watches those kids like a hawk.
However, that it is not always the case in Tennessee where dozens of centers that have received three out of three stars on the state's star quality rating system have been cited for egregious violations, according to an investigative report by The Tennessean presented last weekend.
In addition, many of those centers collectively have received $10 million in subsidies or bonuses over the past four years. It is counterintuitive that certain centers were rewarded in spite of the infractions against them.
Gov. Bill Haslam told The Tennessean on Tuesday that he would review the three-star rating system.
That is a good first step, but it is not enough. The system is in need of reform, subsidies and bonuses should be denied to centers found to be out of compliance, and comprehensive records on violations need to be immediately available for public inspection.
The quality star rating system is voluntary for licensed centers, but it gives a seal of approval that benefits the business because it is supposed to help parents make a decision on the right place to send their children.
Centers that have been assessed with multiple penalties or whose licenses have been suspended, denied or revoked cannot participate in the system.
The rating lasts for six months and is part of an overall report card that looks at safety, professional staff and day-to-day operations.
The Tennessean report documented that 33 out of 290 licensed centers were cited by the state from 2011-2014. Of those cited, 19 received $10 million in subsidies over a four-year period.
Special scrutiny was placed on Never Grow Up Inc., which operates 12 centers in Tennessee — nine of which were cited. Even so, six of those centers operate under a three-star rating.
The violations for cited centers run the gamut from a child falling eight feet through a vent to another getting hold of a bobby pin and inserting it into an electrical outlet to children being punished by being deprived of food or being splashed by a hose. Then, there are numerous instances of children being unsupervised or left alone and unprofessional behavior by staff.
Obtaining these records was not easy. It took six months for the state to provide inspection records to The Tennessean, which is unacceptable for anyone requesting those records.
Currently, summaries of violations are available, but they date back only to 2013. A longer history is essential.
The state should work to make these available for a much longer period of time.
The safety and welfare of Tennessee's children deserve the highest level of oversight, transparency and accountability.
No parent should have to fear that his or her child is in danger when left in the hands of professionals.